Sunday, November 28, 2010

Thanksgiving Thankfulness

Picture of Sunrise over Lake Michigan

I recently made it back from Milwaukee to visit the sister and see other family for Thanksgiving.  There was no Kendo or Iaido involved for the trip, but it was all worth it with the good food I ate and the cool things I saw in the area. 

In the spirit of the Thanksgiving holiday, I want to take the opportunity to list the things I am thankful for when it comes to my martial arts circles:

  • I am thankful for the support I have received from my family from day one of me starting Kendo and Iaido.  I have heard of many cases of family members not giving people any support due to lack of understanding on the parties involved or general family dynamics.  I have been lucky enough to even have my family willingly fly out to see some of my tournaments at their request.  That really means a lot to me and it’s been a major catalyst for me sticking with it.
  • I am thankful for the friends that I have gained from doing Kendo and Iaido over the years.  When I moved to Cincinnati almost three years ago, I was able to instantly make friends due to having a common activity with people that are very willing to support each other.  I do sometimes wonder how my life would have been if I never continued with these arts.  Beforehand, I was playing video games, watching anime and hanging out online.  I imagine that I’d be living a lonely life similar to that, which honestly wasn’t all that much fun when I look back on it.
  • I am thankful for the many opportunities that I get when it comes to participating in Kendo and Iaido events.  Because I have limited obligations outside of work, I have been able to participate in various seminars, tournaments and promotional exams throughout the country.  I have also been able to participate in up to five practices per week which gives me a lot of chances to improve myself throughout the week.  I’m even able to lead practices for some of those times, which has helped me in ways that I never thought it would in terms of ability and confidence.

Whether or not we have ample access to reliable resources to improve ourselves, we should always be thankful for what we have in front of us.  On one end, having one practice where one can learn a lot and reflect for the rest of the week is better than having no practice at all.  On the other end, one must be happy to have such opportunities for ample training.  Because or lives can change at any moment, there are possibilities that we might not be able to do it with such frequency as easily later in life.

Well, I hope that everyone had a good Thanksgiving weekend, whether or not you celebrate it.  Now that everyone has eaten their fill of turkey and other random food stuffs, it’s time to sit back, relax and prepare for our return to the regular work week.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Quality Over Quantity?

I really, really want to improve in my Iaido…

I’m very fortunate with Kendo because the three dojos that are in the area provide me with up to five days of practice per week, but I’m not so lucky when it comes to Iaido.  Usually, we have two days per week to practice, which is fine.  But due to some scheduling conflicts with the Corryville Rec Center for the fall/winter season, we only have time to do Kendo on that day.  As a result, I am now down to one official practice per week.  The club is getting an additional location that should be opening up within the next couple of weeks, but with my busy Kendo schedule on top of work and other activities to keep me sane, I’m not sure how many of those I would be able to feasibly make on a regular basis.

One thing that I like to do on Sundays is to get to the dojo about an hour early so I get some time to warm up and work on some things before the main class starts.  Unfortunately, that means that I’m there at around 7 AM on a Sunday morning, but that’s a sacrifice that I’m willing to make.  For the most part, it works out pretty well.  Though lately, I’ve been learning how to take better advantage of the situation.

Recently, I’ve been able to give my practice a little more focus.  Instead of just doing the kata for the sake of getting the movements down, I’ve been able to really pinpoint the things that I would like to improve, like my balance, blade direction and zanshin.  It gives my practice a little more purpose so I can feel that I’m improving.  It also helps me form any questions that I might have so I can ask them when one of the instructors comes in. 

One particular example is me working on one of the exercises that was taught during the Iaido national seminar earlier this year.  It was a modified form of seitei mae where yoko chiburi is performed at the end, instead of the usual oochiburi.  Then, this was done once in the front, once to the right, once to the back and once to the right.  In essence, it’s like doing the first four kata in the shoden set without really formally learning it.  I’m most certainly am getting some leg work out of it but I’m also getting so much more.  Being able to do proper cuts from all directions and maintaining zanshin while keeping balanced are some of the things that I would like to achieve from doing these.

The advantage that Iaido practice has over Kendo practice is that it’s much easier to be able to practice on your own.  While there are some things in Kendo that can be done solo, like suburi or footwork, a lot of the execution is dependent on having at least some tangible object in front of me to work on various other aspects.  Iaido, on the other hand, involves a lot of imagination to perceive that someone is there that you’re cutting.  At the same time, the balance and zanshin can be done on my own time.

While the practices may not be as numerous as what Kendo in the area provides me, it’s more important that I do what I can to get the most out of the time I do have.  Using technology like video cameras, Youtube and even blogs like this one allows me to expand the dojo outside of the place I practice in and gives me time to reflect on what I particularly want to achieve on a given aspect of Iaido.  So maybe the situation is not so bad after all.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Keeping Members

Originally, I wanted to give some advice about how to retain members in the club, based on my own personal experiences.  But as I keep pondering on how to go about doing that, I'm slowly beginning to realize that, in most cases, there's very little anyone can do to try to make people stick around.

The biggest thing that gets in the way of retention is the sequence of progression.  People tend to drop out after the honeymoon period of doing Kendo is over several weeks or months after starting and after the moment bogu is worn.  At these points, they see what Kendo is all about and then figure out whether or not Kendo might be for them.  Of course, there are other reasons why someone might quit, but going in depth with that could fill up a blog post.

The one thing that could be done is to create a sense of community around the club by doing things outside of Kendo together.  It could be as simple as gathering somewhere after practice, traveling together for tournaments if that is available to everyone or holding parties throughout the year.  Giving someone a place where people feel they belong is very beneficial to allow people to stay.  An examination of teaching style might be beneficial as well.  Something like incorporating new teaching styles, techniques or even different facets of the techniques they already know.  Repetition is very important in Kendo, but sometimes it might become overkill to people to the point of boredom that they might not be able to handle.

Despite all that, it's important to remember that there is no magic bullet to keep people coming.  Sometimes, it's almost like rolling dice where, some years, you get a lot of hangers-on.  Then, the following year, the total amount of people that stay till bogu is like zero.  Despite that, it shouldn't hurt to see how the club is going and examine what works and what doesn't and continue on based on what you see and hear.

Monday, September 06, 2010

How To Improve Club Visibility

The Northern Kentucky Kendo Club has grown a lot over the past year.  When I first arrived, there was only me and about three other people that regularly attended the practices each week.  Now, through the efforts of the dojo leader, Jim Atkins, the club has blossomed into a decent-sized club that has about 10 to 15 people that come on a regular basis.

This wasn't an easy thing to do on his part.  Through his own life experiences and connections with those in the community, he has been able to do his part in getting the world out there and tapping into the demand that exists in the area for "sword fighting."

Club growth and retention is a well-known issue in martial arts circles.  While the sword arts are gaining popularity through the proliferation of anime, samurai movies and better access to all things Japanese culture, some places still seem to have problems with getting people to step in the door.  What I would like to do with this post is take some time to go over some things that he has done to get the word out and get more inquiries and people walking through the doors to practice.

1)  Have an online presence
The drop in prices and increase in access to the internet has brought more people to the information superhighway (how long has it been since I've heard that term?) to do commerce and find out information on a variety of subjects.  With Facebook and blogging websites, it is now easier than ever to create a webpage to advertise the club with minimal knowledge in all things HTML (hypertext markup language) or CSS (cascading style sheets).

The most interesting thing about this aspect is that the club website doesn't have the fancy pictures and videos that most would feel is required to bring people to the website.  Obviously, those things would ultimately help, but showing a regularly updated page with club times, locations and contact information seemed to, at least, provide the minimum information to those that are interested.

The most important thing though is that the website must be easily searchable to those that might be looking for information on your club.  For example, you type in "Kendo Cincinnati" into a search site like Google and the club shows up as being the one of the links at the top, thus making it easier for anyone to find information on your club.  I don't know much about how to do this other than making sure your website has various keywords that might make it possible, so it's best to do some research on that to bring your website to the top of the search engine results.

2)  Take any opportunity to demonstrate
Public speaking is hard.  I can say that from personal experience.  But it is necessary to take whatever opportunity you put on demonstrations in your area.  The most accessible venues are Asian festivals and "club days" that school campuses have throughout the year, but more locations like libraries, talent shows or even banks (yes, the club will be doing a demo at a PNC bank in the next few weeks) should be in the range of possibilities.

The usual format is the introduction, description of equipment, demonstration of strikes and having some matches to finish it off.  But it isn't enough to just go through the motions.  This is your chance to show off your club, so it's probably a good idea to take this chance to show off the club in the best light.

The way that Jim does his presentations is to cater to the crowd.  He uses words like "ninja", "samurai" and "sword fighting" to identify with the crowd since that's what the typical layman is used to hearing.  It's not totally accurate, but it gets the point across which ends up opening the doors to allow more specific, yet basic, information to get absorbed.  Another thing that he does to engage the crowd is to find out what the audience knows by asking basic questions about what they may or may not know about the sword arts and build the presentation off of that.  This step not only engages the crowd even more, but allows the most adept of presenters to mold the rest of the presentation based on the crowd they are presenting to.

The most important aspect to remember about this is that presentation styles aren't "one size fits all."  How Kendo and Iaido is presented depends on the particular event, people in attendance and ones own presentation style.  I have been gaining some experience in this aspect, but I still need to fool around a bit with how I say stuff to really settle into a style that works for me.  Some research and practice in public speaking might be in order for most people.

3) It's not what you know, but who you know
It's one thing to know the steps you want to take in order to show the existence of your club, but it's another thing to be able to actually take those steps to reach your goal.  Being involved with the community and having friends in special places can really help in making things easier for you to do the things you can to advertise for your club.  In Jim's case, he was able to get his friend to tape a video for the club and put it on the public access channel for anyone to see.  This is a pretty hard step, but it's really necessary and I've seen how well having connections and a good personality can help in getting what you want and need.

4) Advertise, Advertise, Advertise
Okay, so you have the website and done the demos.  For some, that may be enough, but for others, there might be more steps that you need to take in order to get the word out.  It's really important to get creative and advertise the club through the various outlets at your disposal.

Here are some ideas that could be taken:
  • Do various community service projects in the name of the club.  Not only is it easy advertising, it also helps out those in need.
  • Put on various forms of fundraisers.  This could be through bake or garage sales.  There is the ease of advertising, but it also raises funds for the club in order to do more outreach programs or help out the club with other activities or equipment assistance.
  • Make T-shirts for club members to wear and/or give them out at demonstrations.  The possibility of this is dependent on the funds of the club and/or members, unfortunately.  But it can be a powerful form of advertisement.  Some anecdotal evidence of this is the fact that I was stopped in a Kroger a few times when someone wanted to ask me about the shirt I was wearing.  It didn't yield any results, but it shows that people do pay attention to what you're wearing.
  • Lots of people participate in various things online.  Do you have a big passion for Kendo?  Why not blog about it?  You can also put links to club websites in online profiles and forum signatures.  This one also requires a bit of creative thinking to at least get the name of the club out there.
  • It's possible to convince a your kid to do show-n'-tell segments at school or perform in talent shows.
5) Luck
It's really not the step that most people wouldn't want to hear, but let's face it, the ability to get information out there is also based on luck.  Opportunities sometimes happen by chance, like having members and friends with certain credentials, to having the planets line up correctly is sometimes the only thing you can rely on to get the word out.  In cases like these, it's best to seize whatever moments you have and think with the "glass half full" mentality.

This list is definitely not absolute.  The steps that you can or willing to take is all dependent on where your club is located, thought processes of the public in your area, comfort level, local laws and monetary funds.  However, no matter the situation, it will take a lot of hard, and possibly fruitless, efforts to get the name and purpose of the club out there.  In any case, we know that there is a demand for doing these exotic Japanese arts, it's just the issue of showing people that you can provide that sort of thing.

It's also important to realize that the club won't grow overnight, and there may be some hard times ahead for the club if it hasn't been there already for various socioeconomic reasons.  In this case, it's best to persevere for the sake of the club and press ahead to make sure that your club goals, however big or small they may be, are reached.

The next step is that, if you happen to be lucky to get more members, how can you learn to keep them?  The advice on that is going to be in the next post!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Working Towards that Immovable Mind

There are many people who practice kendo that believe that they have completed their practice of the kendo fundamentals during the beginner stage and only attempt to relate to them theoretically thereafter.  However, this is a big misconception to the pursuit of true kendo.

Until you are 50 years old, you must endeavor to practice the fundamentals of kendo and make it a part of you.It has taken me 50 years to learn the fundamentals of kendo by body.  It was not until I became 50 years old that I started my true kendo training.  This is because I practiced kendo with all my heart and spirit.

When one becomes 60 years old, the legs are not as strong as they once were.  It is the spirit that overcomes this weakness.  It is through a strong spirit that one can overcome the inevitability of the body becoming physically weaker.

When I became 70 years old, the entire body became weaker.  I found that the next step is to practice the concept of not moving ones spirit (immovable spirit) when practicing kendo.  When one is able to achieve the state of an immovable spirit, your opponent's spirit and will manifests itself to you.  I tried to achieve a calm and immovable spirit at this stage in my life.

When I became 80 years old, I achieved the state of the immovable spirit.  However, there are times when a random thought will enter my mind.  I am striving to eliminate these random thoughts at this state in my life.

-Mochida Moriji Sensei 10th Dan (taken from Princeton Kendo page)

The above quote is from Mochida Moriji sensei, who is the last known 10th dan in Kendo before they reduced the maximum available dan ranks from ten to eight.  Here, he was describing, his progression in Kendo as his body became weaker through age.  Once his body became weaker,, he started on working towards that immovable spirit, or fudoushin, that allows you to keep calm despite what's going on in front of him and be able to move and react despite his physical shortcomings.  He was quite the accomplished kenshi for his time and definitely looked upon very highly when one wants to model themselves after someone for good Kendo.  If you haven't seen his fights, then you can click here for one that was done in front of the emporer at the time.  Here's another one that was from that 8th Dan video that has become popular within the Kendo circle in the past few years.

At 25 years old and in good health, I think that I am still considered young, depending on who you ask.  Despite what people think, when practice begins, I have no qualms with hitting the ground hard and run around the dojo since my body allows for that sort of thing.  No matter how healthy and young my body feels, I eventually run low on energy and I'm not able to move around as well.  So now, the important question becomes, "What do I do when my body isn't able to move as well as I want to, whether it be because of advancing age or simple exhaustion?"  Based on the quote above and my own recent experience, maybe I'm already working towards the answer.

Thanks to the recent weather conditions in the southwest Ohio area, I've had ample opportunity to deal with just that problem.  By time practice starts, temperatures reach the 90s with the dew points in the 70s.  After a series of lots of meterological equations, the heat index gets up into the 100s, sometimes even reaching near 110 degrees.  The fact that we're wearing the heavy dougi and bogu--which only gets heavier as they become sweat soaked--and that the sweat doesn't evaporate since the air is already waterlogged, only creates a recipe for disaster if you don't prepare for it and watch yourself during  practice.

This problem is especially apparent when I attend the practices in Dayton with the Miami Valley Kendo Club.  There are air conditioning units in the dojo, but only open doors and ceiling fans are operational throughout practice.  The practices are normally very intense all year, and practices are run the same whether it's 0 degrees or 95 degrees.  

These intense training conditions really put a number on my body.  In the beginning, I can move around just fine.  But fast forward to near the end of kihon practice when my bougu, my body is dripping with sweat, my bogu is wet and heavier, my legs feel like they will collapse under the weight of everything they support and my arms feel like lead.  Nonetheless, I have to keep going and make it to the end of practice.

Over the past year or so, especially after I got my nidan, I've been given copious amounts of advice on mentally fighting other people.  From being told to simply think before I move to how to use my shinai and body to assess the situation, I am getting to the point where I can't solely rely on my physical prowess anymore...though it does help.  It's given me a path to achieve that fudoushin, that is so sought after so I can remain in control of my body and start gaining control over the other person's body despite the situation at hand.

The benefits are many-fold.  On the physical side of things, it's less taxing on my body.  Being able to do more with less helps conserve the energy that I do have at any given point in time.  On the mental side of things, I find that I'm able to see more of what's going on in front of me.  Things like bodily patterns and openings become more apparent.  And, whether or not I'm even successful, I'm able to react faster since I'm relying on my own auto-responses instead of seeing and doing.

Unfortunately, it's something that doesn't last very long.  After a few minutes, I begin to lose focus, which is a problem because I didn't have a lot of physical energy left to begin with.  Then, I have to actively bring my jigeiko back to it's previous mental state, which can sometimes add a little more stress to the situation, albeit not much. Then it becomes a sort of ping-pong match as I bounce back and forth through various mental states.

At this point, I only know that time is the only medicine to work on this stuff.  Right now, my exhausted body has been the trigger for calming and strengthening my mind.  The next step would be to just keep things calm at any situation to make sure that I don't lose myself during critical moments such as testing and tournament matches.  Then, I guess it would serve as compensation for a weakening body, which hopefully shouldn't happen for at least another 30 years or so.  That fact should help me better concentrate on all those basics and stuff while I can efficiently move.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Nichibushin Shinai Bag

I had a shinai bag that lasted me quite a few years.  But once a small tear at the top became a full-blown hole, I felt that it was time to get a new one.  The old shinai bag was one of the ballistic material ones from E-bogu and was about $30 or so.  It has lasted a while and had transported my shinai and bokken wherever I needed to go, so there are no complaints there.

 Due to having a bit more money in my pocket, I have been blessed with the increased options of shinai bags that are available.  I wanted one that could hold the increased amount of equipment I have (extra shinai, long and short bokken, suburito, etc.) and one that might be able to last for a while.  After some searching, I decided to settle on the Nichibushin Travel Style Shinai Bag from Mazkiya.  So, how did I like it?

The first hurdle to get over is the price.  It costs $96, so purchasing this may not be the easiest decision to make for most people.  It's designed to hold between five and seven shinai and has a pouch on opposite sides.  One holds all your tsuba and the other serves as a place to hold your bokken.  There are ties that hold both the daito and shoto on there.  There is also a shoulder strap for easy carry that feels a little short, but it does the job.

It is a "travel style" shinai bag, so I guess this means that it's designed to take the brunt of abuse for those that do a lot of Kendo.  With it's ballistic material that feels thicker than some of the cheaper versions of shinai bags, so it doesn't seem to disappoint in that department.  Keep in mind that I've only used this for a few weeks, so it might be a few more months or years before I can really verify the strength of the material.  There is a smooth inner lining that seems to offer a bit more protection and add some sturdiness to it.

The pouch on the side that holds your bokken is a nice, added touch.  There are two adjustable straps that can hold your long and short bokken, should you have a full set.  Unfortunately, I found it a bit difficult to adjust the straps, but they have served their function thus far.  The rest of the features on it are pretty typical for just about any utility shinai bag with its pouch for the tsuba and zippers to hold everything in.  There's an optional embroidery service that lets you put your name on the bag for an extra $5 in just about any color you desire.

If you just started Kendo, don't have a lot of equipment, or live in an area or have a schedule that only allows one or two practices a week, then I would suggest just getting the cheaper variety of shinai bag.  They all serve the same purpose, it's just a matter of finding one that fits your tastes and lifestyle.  If you happen to be on the other end of the spectrum and do a lot of traveling, practice a lot and/or have a lot of equipment to transport, then this is a something to at least consider.  It's serving it's purpose for me, based on what I have said above, so I would recommend it to those that are considering it.

Friday, June 18, 2010

AUSKF Iaido National Seminar 2010


I got to spend five days last week in San Antonio for the AUSKF Iaido Seminar.  While I have been to two Iaido seminars in Cleveland, this is the first time I've attended the national seminar.  To be honest, I wasn't sure what to expect to experience and learn.  In the end, I was very pleased with the organization of the event, the people I met and the things I learned (minus some political issues, but that's for a different discussion).

The seminar had the welcoming party on the first day, the seminar on the second and third day, tournament on the fourth day and the promotional exam on the fifth day.  It was the perfect recipe to finish each day with sore legs from all the seiza and tatehiza, and a sore brain from taking in all that new information.

The seminar days went over some new exercises, such as a modified ipponme where we do the nukitsuke to the front, left, right and back and adding some kiai to the nukitsuke with the modified ipponme.  We also basically spend some time with each of the 12 seitei kata, learning various things like what's required for the movements and what's required for effective zanshin after we swing.  I would say that these were the most intense days as it was filled with tons of new information.  At the end of each day, I was mentally exhausted due to taking in so much.

The fourth day was just the tournament which was a whole new experience for me.  I'm more used to the Kendo tournaments where there's a lot of screaming and whacking going on and people running all over trying to get to where they need to be.  Because there was complete silence, the pressure was more intensified than the Kendo tournaments since there aren't any other sounds to drown yourself into.  In the end, lost at the second match against a really good opponent.  It was one of those moments where you could tell someone's skill just by looking at them.

To be honest, I wasn't all that wild about participating in Iaido tournaments in general.  It was something to do just for the experience, but I wasn't sure about really traveling as much as I would for a Kendo tournament to participate in one (if there are even such events existing in the US).  My initial impressions was that there wasn't all that much to gain from participating in these things because I saw it more as just doing the same thing in class, but having a different set of people looking at you.  After actually participating in one and feeling the different sorts of pressure, I do feel that there is just as much to gain from these tournaments compared to the Kendo tournaments

The final day was the promotional exam, which I also participated in.  There was a little less pressure on me that day because:
  • I was just going for whatever kyu rank they felt I deserved.  So this exam wasn't a matter of "pass-or-fail".
  • The tournament prepared me for the procedures and atmosphere so the experience was less jarring.
I was able to make it to 4th kyu, which I'm happy with.  It serves as a jumping point to know what the Federation expects of me to improve, which is pretty much all I feel gradings are for anyways.

Overall, I was really pleased with the seminar.  Not only did I learn a lot, but I met a lot of great people from all over the country.  I look forward to seeing them again in Cleveland next year (which is great since the driving distance is small :)).  In the meantime, I'll take what I learned and work with that until I find out more that needs to be fixed.

I had a chance to use my camera skills while I was there.  I think I'm starting to get the hang of using the camera so I feel that these came out better than some of the other ones.  A friend of mine told me that the ISO might be set too high so I guess that's another thing I should spend a little time with.  Without further ado, you can view the pictures on the flickr slideshow.

Until next time!!!

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Public Speaking, One Of The World's Worst Fears.

Every year, the Krohn Conservatory in Cincinnati, Ohio has a butterfly show where they release many kinds of butterflies in a building for the visitors to look and interact with.  If you're lucky enough, you might even get one to rest on your head, like the one in the hokey picture on the left.  In addition to that, the Japanese and American Student Society has their own set of demos outside of the main building showcasing several aspects of Japanese culture.  The UC Kendo Club was asked to do several demonstrations, which we were happy to oblige our time to show off the martial art we love so much.

In most demos, someone else in the club does all the talking and I just do my job to help make things go smoothly.  But, this time, I was the one doing the talking.  Overall, everything went well.  With the help of those in the club that were able to attend and a receptive crowd, I was able to hold onto my confidence level that tends to go south when having to present stuff in front of large groups of unknown people.

When it comes to presenting Kendo, my goal is to make explanations short and simple and visual examples action packed to make sure that people aren't falling asleep.  Of course, there are many things that I need to improve on which are mainly transitions and maybe a description of the overall history and descriptions that sound less like rambling and more like an authority figure sharing information.  I hope to really work on this as time goes on because I know that this won't be the last demo I will be giving in my Kendo career.

The demo itself consisted of introductions, brief history, description of equipment, basic attacks, kirikaeshi, ai-kakarigeiko and some jigeiko/mock shiai to explain the point system and what makes a hit.  To be honest, I feel that this format is more than sufficient to get the point across but some edits will most likely be made to fit the situation at hand, type of people in the crowd, time allotted and space available.  After that is kept in mind, then the rest should be pretty simple.  The rest is really up to the ability of the speaker to convey the information in a good way.

I've never really thought of myself as the model public speaker.  I tend to stutter and blank out as my confidence level drops.  One thing that seemed to help with that is being put in leadership positions in the clubs I attend, so I had to get used to talking in front of people whether I wanted to or not.  But hey, everything turned out better in the end since I seem to slowly but surely be getting out of that whole stage fright thing with small crowds.  Things might be different for larger crowds, but that is a bridge I will cross when I get to it.

In any case, as my experience level rises, more and more responsibilities will be laid upon me.  Thus, I need to take any opportunity to do what I can to prepare myself for any future situations that come my way.  Some of my goals is to not just be an instructor, but an effective instructor.  To be honest, I didn't think I would have to present myself so early in the game, but it was bound to happen and I come out of it better each time.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Upcoming Iaido Test

My application to attend the AUSKF Iaido seminar in San Antonio has been sent in.  Now I just need to do further preparations such as plane tickets and a possible stop in Houston before I leave.  There will be the general seminar, tournament and testing over four days of Iaido goodness.  This will be my first AUSKF Iaido seminar, so I honestly don't know what it will be like.  At this point, all I can assume is that it would be somewhat similar in structure to the Kendo seminars with the content learned in the Iaido seminars I went to in Cleveland.

I've been thinking about the whole testing process more than anything.  I'm pretty much guaranteed to get something since I'll be vying for one of the kyu ranks, but I would like to put up the best performance I can.  There's a slight learning curve since I've never tested in Iaido before.

All that is required of me is to perform five kata from the Seitei set in under six minutes.  One thing I need to do watch my perception of time.  While I made it through a sample kata set in well under the allotted time, it was still surprising how quickly five minutes can pass.  Of course, it won't do me any good to rush through them all.  One thing that's good about the nature of Iaido is that it's easier to prepare for the exams on your own time.  In Kendo, I'm really only able to get the full benefit of preparations when I have someone to fight against.  For Iaido, since everything is done by yourself, I only have me to rely on and me to blame for taking the time to train beforehand.

For now, I should try to get in the right mindset when doing the kata during practice.  At the same time, I need not worry about all the small details that tends to psych me out and makes me perform worse than I want to.  I should also throw in some home training to really up the concentration.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Injury Recovery

For the past few weeks, I have been skipping out on Kendo and Iaido practice due to a back injury.  Essentially, while doing things to take care of my stiff muscles in my back, my spine kind of just locked up.  I have been visiting the Chiropractor to get things fixed and things have been improving with each treatment so I should be able to return within the next few weeks.  According to the doctor though, I must have been living with a misaligned spine and muscles for quite some time, which actually sounds kinda creepy in retrospect.

However, even when I do return, I can't really just immediately start putting on my bogu and go at it.  Once I finish the adjustment segments, I need to get some therapy to strengthen the muscles I have since they are going to be operating differently.  I will be able to return to Kendo, but will probably have to spend that time just working on my basics and taking things easy until I feel more comfortable to get more active.  This isn't necessarily a bad thing because I will have an easier time concentrating  on all the basics, such as my footwork and suburi through either my own work or helping out any beginners that are attending practice.  It would be interesting to see how it all plays out once I'm able to join the main practice though.  Because the nature of Iaido isn't all that physically demanding, I'll be able to return to practice quite easily.  Heck, I could do it now as long as I'm not in pain on that particular day.

But, until I recover to that point, I'm stuck at home while I recover.  This has given me opportunities to catch up on some games I've neglected, but I've also been doing several things to keep my mind up to speed about Kendo and Iaido.

The biggest thing I have done was buy this book from E-Bogu.  The order was actually in addition to an Iaido hakama and new bokken set so I could save on shipping ($13 shipping vs. a $15 book + free shipping...hard decision...).  It's in Japanese so it's slow going as I actively translate everything, but there's lots of cool pictures drawings in there.  Iho hanshi (the author of the book) does a lot of comparisons between Kendo and various mainstream sports in terms of teaching some of the basic mechanics, though I'll have to see how that plays out as I continue reading.  I have also been reading various blogs and watching tournament videos on Youtube to keep things fresh and reflect on my own abilities. 

I am awaiting the moment I'm able to return to practice.  I'm honestly sick of having to sit around and wait but, if this prevents further injury and makes my body better than it was before, then all the wait time will all be worth it.

Saturday, April 03, 2010

Kendo and Physics

Anyone that does Kendo can understand that even the most basic themes can be difficult to understand or perform.  Someone might tell you over and over how to hit a better men or make better use of seme, which is something you possibly could perform given enough time.  You might be able to do it, but do you really understand what your instructor is talking about?

Sometimes, whenever I am given advice on something during training, I can get told that my body has to be in position X when I start, then it needs to be in position Y when I finish while, at the same time, I need to be thinking about Z to really carry things through.  It really works for the short-term understanding to be able to try out what they are telling me for that particular practice, or even the following couple of practices.  But, I must admit, just saying that I have to be in certain positions or thinking about certain things can sometimes ring hollow to me for the long-term to aid in personal development.  Thus, I have been thinking of certain ways to aid in understanding things in terms that have more of a personal meaning to me.

Whenever we learn a new concept, one of the highly recommended methods for memorization or better understanding is to use mnemonics which is the concept of using aids to help your memorization and understanding of new material.  The most common thing to do is to take a new word or phrase and assign it a word, phrase or concept to make it easier to understand.  So, when it comes to Kendo, doing something like men turns into basic mechanical physics concepts like vector forces of the tip of the shinai and radius of rotation and their related equations.  Or, a concept like tame goes from just storing up my energy before I attack to thinking of springs and how they operate.  Things like this really helps put things into perspective and makes everything less daunting to understand.

Another benefit of this is that, whenever I have to relay the information to others, I can have an easier time explaining it since it makes much more sense to me.  The main caveat is that, because I understand it in terms of physical concepts, relaying the information may be a bit more difficult to others to understand that don't have the same science background that I do.  Of course, any looks of confusion allows me to backpedal a bit and explain it differently if I forget who I am talking to.

Either way, the most important thing is that I turn what was previously hard to understand concepts into something meaningful and, thus, easier to understand.  Doing so allows me to rely on my own devices to aid in improvement, regardless of the type of advice I get.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Countdown to Nidan Exam

I have sent in my shinsa application, so now everything is set for me to take the nidan exam in a few weeks.  I had been thinking about this moment for the past year since I got my shodan, and doing what I could to make sure I was ready for it once the day finally arrived.  If I were taking this test tomorrow, I'm honestly not too sure how well I'd do.  On one hand, I feel like I've got a handle on the copious amounts of advice I have been given for the past year.  But, on the other hand, putting them into practice is a different thing while under various amounts and types of stress.  In the end, I think that, as long as I can keep my mind calm, I would be able to give my best performance to show that I am ready for the next rank.  But, as with anything in life, my best could always be better.  The following is a short rundown of the major things I feel I need to work on.

  • I feel I have a good handle on the kata.  There isn't an issue with knowing what to do.  But I could use a little more practice with nanahonme.  My main fear is falling over myself if I am stuck with the shidachi position as evidenced with practice a few weeks ago.  The floor was very slippery, but you never know.  Better safe than sorry.
  • I need to put more thought into my fighting.  During general practice, it's pretty simple to achieve as the stress levels are much lower and different compared to a shiai or shinsa.  So I really need to get to the point of being able to look for openings and respond to attacks to the point where I am constantly in control of myself and the fight.  Various people have told me this, so I know this is probably something they will really be looking for when it's my turn to go.
  • While I need to work on being more calm, I also feel I should have a better handle of balancing that with aggressiveness.  I can't just stand there and wait for the person to attack me, I need to actively try to make them attack and even launch one or two of my own attacks once I see something.  I also need to be able to move forward to make sure I get the hit, but make it difficult for the other person to hit as well.  Of course, I can't really be too aggressive to the point where I'm just attacking and hoping that I can hit something.  I've been dinged for that many times before so I should know all too well about that.
Of course, the list can go on and on as far as things that I need to fix, whether or not they are big or small.  What I want to be careful of is thinking about too many things at once, which will only increase my stress levels.  I already have an idea of what they are looking for from me so I really need to just think about those major points and brush up on those until the time of my test.  I can easily succumb to pressure so I need to do whatever I can to mitigate the issues associated with that.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Kendo Kata research - Introduction

I can admit, Kendo kata can be boring. But, no matter how I feel about the kata, they must be done anyways in order for us to advance through the rankings. I was one of those people that treated kata as a necessary thing to do before the promotional exams to make sure I don’t make any glaring mistakes come test time. Whenever I do them, it turns out to be no more than doing X, Y and Z in order to get from point A to point B.

I’ve started to think a bit more about how I can approach Kendo kata a little differently. Part of it is my newfound uptake and interest in Iaido, where we tend to go much deeper into the techniques and reasons behind each of the katas’ moves and the other part is just a drive to understand whatever I am doing a little better, which just happens to be part of my inquisitive personality. Essentially, I may know how to do all the moves, but I would also like to know why I am doing those moves. In order to achieve that, there are a few things I’d like to look at.

  1. I would like to know some things about when the kata were developed, how they were developed and why they were developed. Understanding where things come from can help with better appreciating what it is one is doing.
  2. I have learned that the roles we do mean something and the kamae we take means something. Thus, I’d like to take the positions and roles we take and put some meaning behind the moves we do by examining each of the kata with the information learned from the background info.
Keep in mind that, beyond the history and some technical info, a lot of what I type here is my opinion based on my experience and thought process. People with more experience will think differently, people with less experience will think differently. Heck, people of similar experience will think differently which all depends on where they practice, how they practice, who’s teaching and what their personality is. My own experience level really isn’t all that much to the point of not knowing the kodachi kata yet. I’ve just taken some interest in this part of Kendo, so I thought I would take up my own research, but then share what I find and what I know with the Kendo world at large.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Trying Jodan

For the last few practices, I thought I would try out Jodan no kamae for a little bit. For those not in the know, Jodan no kamae is one of the three main kamae used in Kendo with the other two being Chudan (the most basic and widely used) and nito (using a shoto and daito simultaneously).

I wanted to try it for three main reasons:
  • Learning alternate kamae - Well, the stance is there, so why not try to use it? I love Kendo enough to explore whatever avenue is open to me for improvement and this is just another path that is open for me to take. There is an experimental bug in my consciousness that sometimes might get the best of me.
  • Defeating the kamae - Whenever I face against someone who is doing jodan, I oftentimes freeze into confusion as I start to really think about what needs to be done to be victorious. In the end, all it did was slow me down and made my defenses and offenses very innefective for fighting. The easiest way to learn about fighting against jodan is to just keep fighting against people that use it. Eventually, you learn about the kamae you should take, the targets that are open and the capabilities of that opponent. But I believe that the missing element is actually learning of the capabilities of that kamae yourself by really experiences the positives and negatives through personal experience to take with you when you eventually face someone using it.
  • Helping with assertiveness - I tend to hesitate a lot in Kendo with doing chuudan. At first, I thought that I would need to really work on my aggressiveness through chuudan before I moved on, but then I recently had the idea to use it as a vehicle to really learn about aggressiveness out of necessity through jodan. Jodan no kamae is known as the kamae of fire. The mindset for this one is to have that feeling of taking over the other person as a flame can easily take over anything that's flammable. Also, you have to be aggressive with it because the left kote, dou and tsuki are wide open for the taking. Worrying about defense isn't much of an option with this stance.
Trying out jodan is something that I have been wanting to do for a long time. I have tried it out a few times before, but the lack of knowledge of available sources at the time and, perhaps my own experience at the time as well, made any small attempts fruitless. A couple of days ago, I found a translation of a Jodan manual on the Halifax Kendo Club website, which provides a lot of information on the basic techniques and required though processes in fighting with and against Jodan. After taking a glimpse of that, I was inspired to give it another shot, on top of the reasons stated above.

In the short time I've used it, I've learned quite a bit. On the top level, I had a lot of fun using it once I got into a decent mindset. Going deeper, I learned some stuff about myself and how I am able to improve my overall Kendo. I was able to try it out against a good amount of people so there were more experiences to add onto what I have already learned. That can be read as I got my ass kicked a lot, but that really doesn't matter to me since I only just started experimenting with it.

At this point, it's way too early to see where I could be going with this. As of now, the main reason for using Jodan is to be able to find out a lot about the kamae and myself. The required mindset in order to be successful with it is totally different from Chudan, but also the same. What I mean is that, while I need to be more aggressive due to the open targets, the planning that is required to do well when fighting against someone is the same. Anything beyond that concerning me and my Jodan future is out of scope for the time being.
Powered by Blogger